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TV Content: “The Walking Dead” Essay


Table 1: Content Analysis of The Walking Dead, season 1.

No. of instances Screen time
(Seconds)
Description/Context/Characters Consequences Shown?
Drug Use 1 13 A minor character in the season (Daryl Dixon), a drug dealer, is shown to possess drugs, and it is suggested he might have snuffed them, as the powder was visible on his nose. The mention of drugs was made only in the second episode for a very short duration. No legal or procedural conviction is shown in season 1.
Violence 100 1979 Violence in the form of gun use and murder is shown in the film. It is mostly about killing walkers (the dead men) with a gun or a bat. The splattered brain of the walker is often shown on the screen. Further, there are a lot of images that suggest the occurrence of violence. There is an instance of domestic violence. The violence shown in the show is part of the core storyline. It also shows vandalism and destruction of private and public property. None of the characters that have engaged in a violent act are shown as repentant or being prosecuted as the story shows total anarchy after the rise of the walkers.
Only the character that engaged in domestic violence was beaten by Shane and then killed by the walker, which is a symbolic punishment.
Sex 5 47 Sexual encounters are shown only twice when the characters are portrayed engaged in coitus. Otherwise, the three other instances are those of kissing, hugging, or embracing.
Language 108 145 Objectionable words or phrases are abundantly used. Curse words, such as “hell”, and “damn”, are common. Sexual words, such as “fuck”, “son of a bitch”, “boobs/tits”, “prick”, “bastard”, “ass/asshole”, “pussy”, are also present in the dialogues. Finger gestures, gendered remarks, and racial remarks are present in the dialogues.
The language also has racial and gendered comments.
The obscenity in language is mostly associated with situations when there is tension.
Gendered language addressing women is frequent. Further, racial comments against African-Americans and Asian characters are common.

The essay analyses the content of six episodes in the first season of the television drama The Walking Dead. The show is analyzed for the presence of sex, drugs, violence, and language (SDVL). The total runtime that has been analyzed is 4.5 hours. Two counts of SDVL are done – frequency and the duration of occurrence.

The television program is based on the sudden escalation of an infectious epidemic that brought back dead men as cannibal zombies (The Walking Dead). A few men and women that avoided infection began their survival journey through the apocalyptic world. Consequently, the presence of violence in the program is in the storyline as it is the story of human survival. Violence is defined as the physical act or intent of the aggressor, directed at causing damage, injury, or death to another (Jamieson and Romer 34). The coding for violence is done following Gunter and Harrison, who differentiated between explicit and aggravated violence, like murder, physical damage to another person or property, and the image of violence that includes showing post-violence scenes (297). Images are coded even though the scenes do not show the occurrence of violence. This is done because these scenes are just a sanitized version or implied show of the past violent outbreak. The scenes of violence are coded as 1 when there are scenes of killing with or without a weapon, physical aggression in the form of fistfight or assault, and implied violence for the scenes that show violence that had occurred in the past, or weapons are shown.

Sex-related content depicted in the program is divided into three types – sexual intercourse on the screen, scenes indicating the occurrence of sex, and the act of kissing or embrace. Drug use is coded as one when any character is explicitly shown using drugs, there is an implied reference to drugs or substance abuse, or the scenes show drug trafficking or peddling (Primack, Dalton and Carroll 171).

Language in televised programs has become an important aspect that demonstrates the specific kind of behavior. Language can be classified as foul or bad language, which is related to the use of sexual words like “bastard”, “fuck”, etc. The usage of swear words, such as “goddamn”, is also coded as one in the analysis. In addition, gestures, which are considered as part of non-verbal communication, are coded as one in language. They are coded in this category because they are direct proof of physical aggression or non-verbal abuse.

The content analysis of The Walking Dead shows that the usage of profane language and the presence of violence is higher than sex or drug abuse on the screen. The analysis is done in two parts. First, the frequency of occurrences is tabulated, and then the time of the activities shown on the screen is calculated. According to the frequency of occurrence, foul language is used 108 times in the six episodes, while there are 100 occurrences of violent acts. Time analysis of the series shows violence is present in 33 minutes out of 270 minutes of the total airing time. In terms of percentage, it is about 18.3% of the total airing time (see table 2 in Appendix). The duration of the usage of obscene language is much less as it comprises only 1.3% of the airing time even though its frequency of occurrence is higher. The show does not present a lot of sexual acts or substance abuse that occur only 5 and 1 times respectively in the six episodes. Evidently, language and violence assumes greater predominance in The Walking Dead show.

Upon analyzing the six episodes separately, it is observed that there is a definite rise and fall in the occurrences of violence in the series. The incidence of violence in the six episodes is high. However, it is lower in the first two episodes when frequency is 13 and 15. However, the frequency increases to 33 in the third episode, and then falls again from the fourth to the sixth episode (see table 3 in Appendix). However, when observing the duration of violence occurrence as a percentage of the total airing time (see table 3 in Appendix), it is noted that violence occurs for the longest duration in E04, which has gradually increased compared to the first episode. However, the lowest spell is observed in E05, and not in E06. A linear correlation between frequency of violence and bad language shows that the two have a statistically significant positive relation indicating a rise in the use of obscene language when there is more violence on the screen.

Violence shown on the screen is more related to zombies than men. The reason for violence was embedded in the story, as it shows an existential endeavor to survive. The positive correlation between the occurrence of violence and bad language shows that the latter used in the series is directly proportional to the occurrence of violence, indicating that the former is more frequently applied when the characters are in an intense situation. Most of the foul language is used in the show by men. Female characters in the show use “son of bitch” more often. The use of curse words, such as “hell”, and “damn”, is quite frequent as has been found in the previous research (Kaye and Sapolsky 316).

Was violence shown on the screen necessary? The Walking Dead is a story about zombie apocalypse where the whole modern world was destroyed. The few living men were striving to survive and retain their humanity. In such a tale of survival violence is inevitable. In stories like this, people who can fight for their lives tend to live (Canavan 445). Further, with intense stress of survival comes the need to cope, and the obscene language often becomes a source of showing verbal aggression. Consequently, curse or sexual words are more abundantly used during zombie attacks. Therefore, I believe the frequent recurrence of obscene language and violence in the series is justified as it helps the storyline.

No punishment for such rampant violence is shown as the world order was destroyed in the zombie revival. The apocalyptic disaster of the zombie attack was followed by complete chaos and anarchy. Thus, the few men who could live had to resort to extreme measures, such as killing, vandalism, and assault, to survive. Men chose to trust their fierce survival instincts to live. As the world is destroyed, so is the law and order. Therefore, no action, irrespective of the intensity of violence, is punished.

Appendix

Table 2: SLVD analysis of The Walking Dead, Season 1 (own calculation).

Number Time Percentage of Total Air time (%)
Violence 100 1979 18.3
Language 108 145 1.3
Sexual 5 47 0.4
Drugs 1 13 0.1

Table 3: Frequency of SLVD in each episode of season 1 (own calculation).

Frequency Chart
E01 E02 E03 E04 E05 E06
Violence 13 15 33 17 12 10
Language 11 39 31 18 7 2
Sexual 0 2 1 0 1 1
Drugs 0 1 0 0 0 0

Table 4: Percentage of time SVDL was shown on screen in each episode (own calculation).

E01 E02 E03 E04 E05 E06
Violence 11.78 13.96 12.44 19.15 5.89 10.07
Language 0.56 1.70 1.37 0.96 0.52 0.26
Sexual 0.00 0.85 0.56 0.00 0.19 0.15
Drugs 0.00 0.48 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00

Works Cited

Canavan, Gerry. “We are the walking dead”: race, time, and survival in zombie narrative.” Extrapolation, vol. 51, no. 3, 2010, pp. 431-453.

Darabont, Frank, creator. The Walking Dead, AMC, 2010.

Gunter, Barrie and Jackie Harrison. Violence on Television: An Analysis of Amount, Nature, Location and Origin of Violence in British Programmes. Rutledge, 2001.

Jamieson, Patrick E. and Daniel Romer. “Violence in Popular U.S. Prime Time TV Dramas and the Cultivation of Fear: A Time Series Analysis.” Media and Communication, vol. 2, no. 2, 2014, pp. 31-41.

Kaye, Barbara K. and Barry S. Sapolsky. “Offensive language in prime time television: Before and after content ratings.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, vol. 45, no. 2, 2001, pp. 303-319.

Primack, Brian A., Madeline A. Dalton, Mary V. Carroll, Aaron A. Agarwal, and Michael J. Fine. “Content Analysis of Tobacco, Alcohol, and Other Drugs in Popular Music.” Archives Pediatric Adolescence Medicine, vol. 162, no. 2, 2008, pp. 169–175.

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